An L-1 visa is for an intracompany transferee employed by a foreign office and coming to the U.S. to start working for an affiliated or related U.S. office, either as an executive/manager (L-1A) or as a professional employee with specialized knowledge about the company (L-1B). Even if the foreign company does not yet have an affiliated U.S. office, an L-1 visa can still be used to send the employee to the U.S. to help establish a new one, such as a new subsidiary or a branch office.
For an L-1 visa, the petitioning U.S. employer must have a qualifying relationship with a foreign company either as a parent, subsidiary, branch, or affiliate, and must be doing or plan to do business in the U.S. for the entire duration of the L-1 visa. The business does not have to be in international trade but it must be viable, such as regularly providing goods and/or services instead of merely having an office. To qualify as an L-1 intracompany transferee, you must have been employed by the qualifying foreign office for at least 1 year within the last 3 years either as an executive/manager (L-1A) or as an employee with special knowledge about your company’s product, service, research, equipment, techniques, management, and its application, or have an expertise in the company’s processes and procedures (L-1B). You can also receive an L-1A visa to come to the U.S. to open a new office, but you will need to show that your employer has secured a physical office space and the new office will have enough funds/business to support the function of your position as an executive/manager.
The U.S. employer will need to file a Form I-129 visa petition with the USCIS establishing the qualifying relationship with the foreign entity and the qualification of the L-1 beneficiary either as an executive/manager or an employee with specialized knowledge. For smaller-sized companies, especially when opening a new office in the U.S., extensive documentation may be required to prove the employee’s qualifying role along with a detailed business plan. If the U.S. employer is of over a certain size and plans to transfer a large number of employees from its foreign offices, a process called “blanket L-1 visa petitions” can be used. This process allows the U.S. employer to establish the required intracompany relationship in advance. Once approved for blanket L-1, the qualified U.S. employer may start bringing its intracompany transferees to the U.S. directly without having to file a petition with the USCIS first.
You may receive an L-1 visa for up to 3 years with each filing, except for when you are coming to open a new office, you will only receive up to 1 year of L-1 status. This is because the USCIS wants to make sure that the new office does business in the U.S. according to the plan submitted with the initial petition. After your initial L-1 visa, you can get an extension of your status in 2-year increments, until you reach the maximum period of allowed stay which is 7 years for L-1A visa holders and 5 years for L-1B visa holders. After you spend the maximum 7 or 5 year period on your L-1, you will have to leave the U.S. and work for the foreign company for at least 1 year before you can apply for L-1 status again.
All L-1 visas are employer specific, meaning you can only work for your L-1 visa petitioner. If you want to switch jobs, unless your new employer also qualifies as another related U.S. office of the foreign company, you will need to get a different work visa such as an H-1B. The requirements will be different depending on the company and the position offered to you. Although an L-1 visa can be submitted at any time, H-1B visas have a numerical cap which may limit the starting date you can work for your new employer. Depending on your new employment offer, you may also consider pursuing employment-based permanent residency in order to get a green card, while keeping your L-1 visa. This is because unlike many other non-immigrant visas, L-1 visa allows you to have “dual intent,” meaning you can apply for a green card without losing or jeopardizing your L-1 visa status.
If you resign or get terminated from your employment before the expiration date of your L-1 visa status, you will have up to 60 days of authorized stay (“grace period”) in the U.S. or may remain until the end of your L-1 validity period, whichever is shorter. During this grace period, you may look for new employment, change your status to another visa, or prepare for your departure, but you are not permitted to work.
Your spouse or children under the age of 21 can apply for an L-2 visa as your dependents. L-2 visa holders can legally work in the U.S. as long as they first obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) from USCIS. All L-2 visa holders may also engage in full or part-time study in the U.S. without having to obtain a separate F-1 student visa.
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